It's now fashionable to obsess about the bad things that happen on the Internet -- violations of privacy, assaults on decency, abuse of innocents -- all consequences of this new medium's uncanny ability to penetrate the barriers people erect to protect themselves.
This is not one of those stories. This is a picture of the Net at its best, crossing barriers of time, space and generations to do good in a creative way.
It is the story of a mother and child reunion that could take place only in cyberspace.
The players: A quirky and celebrated songbird, who 32 years ago bore a child out of wedlock, gave her up for adoption and buried her pain in the lyrics of songs that made her a folk-jazz legend. A girl, born with Cherokee cheekbones and bright yellow hair, who grew up unaware that Joni Mitchell was her mother. A fan so devoted to Mitchell and her music that he maintained a Web site that catalogued the minutiae of her career.
Kilauren Gibb, because of information posted on that site, was able to penetrate both the secrecy of Canadian adoption laws and the protective aura that insulates a star from her public to finally come face to face with the woman who gave birth to her.
Fan builds Web site
Wally Breese, an amateur musicologist in California, began building the site two years ago, assembling a discography and painstakingly collecting biographical details about Joni Mitchell: Born Roberta Joan Anderson in Saskatchewan, Canada, where her dad was a grocer and her mom a teacher, Mitchell had polio at age 9.
Left out of the official story is that at age 20, while in art school, Mitchell became pregnant. The father, a fellow art student, was unwilling to marry and abortion was not an option. But pregnancy was such a scandal in those days that Mitchell concealed it from her parents, giving birth to the child she named Kelly Dale in the charity ward of a Toronto hospital.
After a month-long marriage to American folk singer Chuck Mitchell -- a misguided attempt to set up a stable home -- she gave the baby up for adoption. It wasn't long before she was recognized as a different kind of diva -- a woman of verve, mystery and sophisticated musical talent.
Mitchell had managed to keep the details of her motherhood a secret during her 30-year career, which was marked by such classics as "Both Sides Now," "Big Yellow Taxi," and "Chelsea Morning," the tune that inspired Bill and Hillary Clinton and countless other boomers to name their daughters Chelsea. Seeping through the poetic, stream-of- consciousness lyrics of other songs, though, was the pain of a mother who has given up a child. In "Chinese Cafe," a ballad of two girl-hood friends coming together later in life, she confesses, "My child's a stranger/ I bore her, but could not raise her." And "Little Green" is a veiled anthem to
Kelly and the adoption process: "You sign all the papers in the family name / You're sad and you're sorry but you're not ashamed."
Mitchell, over the years, tried to look for her daughter but was frustrated by Canadian adoption laws, which are bound up in secrecy. Everything changed four years ago, when one of Mitchell's art-school roommates sold the story of her secret pregnancy to a supermarket tabloid. Headlines like "Songbird Searches for Love Child" sent Mitchell running for cover -- and sent a stream of imposters heading toward Los Angeles. Her staff routinely turned them away.
Child renamed Kilauren
Meanwhile, the girl who was born Kelly Dale Anderson and renamed by her adoptive parents Kilauren Gibb had embarked on a search of her own. Gibb, now 32 and living in Toronto, is a computer student and former model. She had been searching for her birth mother for the past five years.
But again, Canadian adoption laws blocked Gibb from anything but sketchy details about her biological parents: Birthdates, heights, physical characteristics and random details about grandparents. Health information, such as the mother's childhood polio. A notation that both mother and father had artistic talent.
When friends who had read the tabloid stories suggested she might be Mitchell's daughter, Gibb turned to the Internet and discovered Breese's labor of love, the Joni Mitchell Home Page, with its wealth of biographical facts: She found 15 matches -- everything from Mitchell's bout with polio to the occupations of her parents. Gibb e-mailed Breese, who encouraged her to contact Mitchell's manager. When Gibb made the call, the manager initially turned her away as another imposter. But then he listened to Gibb's voice. It was so similar to Mitchell's, it gave him chills.
The reunion occurred earlier this year, when Gibb flew to Los Angeles from Toronto, accompanied by her 4-year-old son, Marlin. They marveled at the matching cheekbones, the willowy stature, the yellow hair.
And it made Wally Breese, keeper of the Web site, believe that something more than just fandom was at work.
"I feel that the Web connection to the reunion was the spiritual purpose of my project -- The only credit I'll personally accept for the reunion is for doing a great job on this Web site," he says. "My work began as a labor of love, and more love still has sprung from it. This is real magic and no one can ever take that away."